Springhill stars in new Death and Nightingales drama

Springhill house near moneymore

Springhill, the 17th-century plantation home in Moneymore cared for by the National Trust, welcomes stars including Jamie Dornan for filming of new drama `Death and Nightingales'.

The new adaptation of Eugene McCabe's modern Irish classic, Death and Nightingales will premiered on BBC Two on Wednesday 28 November at 9pm. The prime time slot reflects the fact that this dramatic adaptation stars some big Hollywood names including Northern Ireland’s own Jamie Dornan, Matthew Rhys and Anne Skelly.

Jamie Dornan visited Springhill during filming
Jamie Dornan visited Springhill during filming
Jamie Dornan visited Springhill during filming

Directed by Allan Cubitt (who previously directed Jamie Dornan in The Fall), the three-part series is set in the beautiful haunting countryside of Fermanagh in 1885 and tells the story of a tense 24-hour period.

Through the events of a single day in the life of Beth Winters, we see decades of pain, betrayal, and resentment build to a devastating climax.

The adaptation follows Beth, who is celebrating her 23rd birthday and decides to join the charming Liam Ward, played by Dornan, to escape from her limited life and difficult relationship with her landowner stepfather Billy (Matthew Rhys).

Springhill as a filming location

Although set in Fermanagh, Death and Nightingales was filmed at various locations across Northern Ireland, including Springhill near Cookstown, Tollymore and Strangford.

Springhill provided an authenic 17th century for the period drama
Filming Death and Nightingales at Springhill
Springhill provided an authenic 17th century for the period drama

Providing an authentic setting for the period drama, Springhill plays a central role in the series as the Winters’ family home where much of the story unfolds. In order to accommodate the filming schedule, Springhill was closed to the public for much of May and June, although staff and volunteers maintained a busy schedule assisting the production team on site.

Filming of Death and Nightingales at Springhill in numbers:

  • More than 1,000 objects in Springhill had to be packed away before shooting began
  • More than 100 people made up the production team on site
  • 40 National Trust staff and volunteers per day were on duty as they helped the production team on site – they had to wear dark clothes and flat shoes so their heels wouldn’t be heard during filming
  • 12 spaces inside Springhill were used for filming. One of them was the live-in apartment of National Trust staff who had to move out temporarily while their accommodation was turned into the space for Elizabeth Winters!
  • Tens of lorry loads of cameras and lights, offices and catering vans and trailers for dressing rooms.
  • 8  species of bats at Springhill - the film crew had to wait until all the bats had roosted for the evening before turning on their night shoot lights 
  • 8 days to reinstate Springhill to its former grandeur and 4 days spent dusting and cleaning Springhill to allow it to be opened again to visitors in July
  • Two months – Springhill was closed in May and June of this year to facilitate filming

Explaining why Springhill was chosen as a location for the filming, production company The Imaginarium said: ‘Springhill is the perfect house for Death and Nightingales. The house is lovingly preserved by The National Trust who were very supportive as we recreated a late 19th century gentleman’s residence. 

‘The planter house dates from the late 17th-century. Billy Winters' grandfather would have bought the house and surrounding land around 1800, and built extensions to the existing house at that time. So Springhill perfectly reflects the story of the Protestant Winters family in its history, architecture and beautifully preserved interior.

Death and Nightingales period drama BBC Two

The benefits of filiming at our places

As Northern Ireland’s leading conservation charity, careful consideration is always given to the impact filming will have on our places, staff and resources before approval is given.  

‘It’s never ideal to have to close a property coming into peak season’ explains Gemma Elliott, General Manager, ‘but when the opportunity arose to have this special place featured in a new BBC drama we were keen to explore the benefits this would bring.  Stars like Jamie Dornan have a huge following and we hope that Death and Nightingales will attract new visitors to Springhill, introducing them to the important work that the National Trust does caring for special places like Springhill for ever, for everyone.  

‘As a charity, we are always looking for ways to fund the vital conservation work that we do and allowing the places in our care to be used as filming locations is one such option,’ Gemma continues. ‘The location fee from this project will be used to support ongoing conservation work at Springhill where we will shortly be starting a major restoration project in the house, securing the future of this historic building for generations to come.’

The growth of film tourism

Screen tourism is a major growth industry in Northern Ireland and many of our places have benefited from being used as film locations.  The global success of HBO’s Game of Thrones series brings thousands of people to Castle Ward in County Down each year, all eager to explore the authentic film location of ‘Winterfell’.  Kearney, Mount Stewart, Crom, Divis and the Black Mountain and Portstewart Strand have all provided settings for recent films and TV dramas, with Springhill now claiming its place in the hall of fame.

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